What constitutes evidence in the study of politics

What constitutes grounds in the survey of political relations and how is grounds used in political analysis?

As Lisa Harrison ( 2001:3 ) suggests, there has been a gradual tendency in the survey of political relations off from the name of ‘political studies’ towards the more empirical sounding ‘political science’ ; a state of affairs that reflects non merely an of all time more maturing discourse but an evolving methodological analysis and a desire to distance the subject from the mundane, as Harrison provinces, “chaotic” universe of existent universe political relations. In the visible radiation of such developments, this paper asks what precisely are we to take as grounds in political scientific discipline and how can we best usage it in analysis.

Some of the jobs of specifying grounds and informations in political scientific discipline are outlined by Burnham et Al ( 2004 ) ; they cite that, in a democracy, whilst everyone is entitled to keep an sentiment, “ ( T ) chapeau does non, of class, mean that every sentiment is every bit valid or influential.” ( Burnham et al, 2004: 2 ) . Whilst anecdotal statements may organize portion of political argument they are by and large non considered portion of the principal of grounds used in political scientific discipline ; chiefly, we could asseverate, because they are unsubstantiated, unquotable and without cosmopolitan application, as Burnhamet Alprovince:

“Thus a college pupil may state to another, ‘My friend isn’t registering to vote because he thinks it’s pointless.’ One could non utilize this position as a footing for generalisations about elector enrollment rates among all American college students.” ( Burnhamet Al, 2004: 2 )

Commensurate with the impressions of Marsh and Stoker ( 2004 ) political scientific discipline can be split into a figure of different epistemic places each of which can be characterised by either ‘qualitative’ or ‘quantitative’ methodological analysiss. The first of these denotes the aggregation of interpretative informations from focal point or treatment groups, canvassing interviews or observations ; the latter describes the aggregation of empirical, chiefly statistical informations that is so used as the footing for a universalised generalization ( Marsh and Stoker, 2004: 11 ) . As Marsh and Stoker point out, the pick of method is really frequently dictated by the epistemic foundations and premises of the research or research worker:

“Qualitative work is more evidently associated with interpretative or anti-foundational theories…Marxism would pull on different types of informations depending on the inquiry posed. Feminism would possibly be given to favor qualitative informations aggregation, although there are feminist political scientists who use quantitative data.” ( Marsh and Stoker, 2004: 11 )

Despite there being disparities and differences in attack, so, and aside from the fluctuation in epistemic foundation, the impression of grounds in political scientific discipline remains unusually the same. Whether one is covering with focal point group observation or statistical analysis, grounds arises out of the assorted procedures that guarantee its rigidness and its value as a footing for hypothesis proving. Under this impression grounds is non so much an object for survey as an result of the procedure of survey, where information is determined, cross checked and sifted in the initial developmental phases every bit good as the aggregation phase. Lalman, Oppenheimer and Swistak ( 1993 ) sum up this complex state of affairs compactly when they assert that “science is non an reply so much as it is a method of obtaining answers” ( Lalman, Oppenheimer and Swistak, 1993: 98 ) .

This thought, of the impression of grounds being the result of the procedure of a scientific methodological analysis instead than a specific research object, seeks to avoid the instead disappointing reply that grounds differs from method to method. Both Marsh and Stoker and Burnhamet Alsuggest that grounds, for both quantitative and qualitative surveies exists within the web of interrelated methodological cheques and balances that should organize the footing of a scientific survey. In observations of focal point groups, for case, the ‘evidence’ is non contained so much within the observations themselves but in the choice of representative participants that form the footing of subsequent generalizations and hypothesis testing. In statistics, the ‘evidence’ is non so much in the bare figures but in the strict procedure of their aggregation and the illations drawn from them.

The usage of political grounds depends a great trade upon the methodological analysis one is using, nevertheless, as with the definition of grounds itself, there are as many paras as there are differences. As Fiona Devine ( 2004 ) asserts, qualitative grounds really frequently manifests itself in ethnographic surveies of sentiment formation and socio-cultural forms of behavior ; we could propose that it is used to spot the grounds or the psycho-social significance behind issues of civil order – why vote forms alteration ( Devine, 2004: 198 ) , for case, or how a current authorities is being received in certain demographic subdivisions.

Peter John ( 2004 ) gives us the opposing position, asseverating that quantitative informations is used in political scientific discipline to chart big vote displacements over clip or geographic country, as he states:

“Quantitative plants rests on the observation and measuring of perennial incidences of unpolitical phenomenon, such as vote for a political party, an allotment of resources by a authorities bureau or citizen attitudes towards revenue enhancement and public spending.” ( John, 2004: 232 )

We can see here elusive differences in the manner that grounds is used: on the one manus to spot the nature of big scale objects of research ( voting forms, wide public sentiment, simple attitudinal surveies etc ) and, on the other, trying to happen the specificity behind these ; generalizing manners of behavior through little, representative focal point groups and participant observation.

As Marsh and Stoker so vehemently assert, the true nature of political scientific discipline lies non so much in the uniqueness of its methodological analysis as in the diverseness. The true image of the political state of affairs remainders someplace in between the methods of description and the methods of quantification, between the big graduated table universals and the smaller representative groups ; in this manner political scientific discipline can associate the macro with the personal and explicate the one through the other.


Burnham, P, Gilland, K, Grant, W and Layton-Henry, Z ( 2004 ) ,Research ethods in Politicss, London: Palgrave.

Devine, F ( 2002 ) , ‘Qualitative Methods’ , published in Marsh, D and Stoker, G ( explosive detection systems ) ,Theory and Methods in Political Science, London: Palgrave, pp.197-215.

Harrison, L ( 2001 ) ,Political Research: An Introduction, London: Routledge.

John, P ( 2002 ) , ‘Quantitative Methods’ , Marsh, D and Stoker, G ( explosive detection systems ) ,Theory and Methods in Political Science, London: Palgrave, pp.216-230.

Lalman, D, Oppenheimer, J and Swistak, P ( 1993 ) , ‘Formal Rational Choice Theory: A Accumulative Science of Politics’ , published in Finifter, A ( erectile dysfunction ) ,Political Science: The State of the Discipline, Washington: American Political Science Association.

Marsh, D and Stoker, G ( 2002 ) , ‘Introduction’ , published in Marsh, D and Stoker, G ( explosive detection systems ) ,Theory and Methods in Political Science, London: Palgrave, pp.1-16.

Further Reading

Barbour, R and Kitzinger, J ( explosive detection systems ) ( 1998 ) ,Developing Focus Group Research: Politicss, Theory and Practice, London: Sage.

Goodin, R and Klingmann, H.D ( 1998 ) ,A New Handbook of Political Science, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Writings, P, Keman, H and Kleinnijenhuis, J ( 2005 ) ,Making Research in Political Science, London: Sage.

Van Evera, S ( 1997 ) ,Guide for Methods for Students of Political Science, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Yates, S ( 2003 ) ,Making Social Research, London: Sage.